Plan for Carroll election is OK'd

Judge approves consent agreement to let voters choose 5 commissioners by district

April 20, 2006|By LAURA MCCANDLISH | LAURA MCCANDLISH,SUN REPORTER

A Circuit Court judge approved a consent agreement yesterday between the Carroll County Board of Elections and a Sykesville resident that calls for the November election of five commissioners by district.

The agreement came just hours after a lawsuit was filed by the resident demanding that the board uphold a 2004 referendum approved by voters. That referendum expanded the number of commissioners from three to five members and required them to be elected by district.

"I think this is very positive," said Patricia K. Matsko, director of the elections board. "I'm glad to see they have made a decision to move forward in this manner."

Under the order approved by Carroll County Circuit Judge Michael M. Galloway, the elections board will follow the map recommended in 2005 by a redistricting committee and supported by the current commissioners and officials in the county's eight towns.

That map, known as Option Two, carves two districts out of South Carroll, the county's most populous area. It also would keep Hampstead and Manchester in one district.

The lawsuit was filed by Dana L. Dembrow, an attorney and a former Montgomery County delegate who now lives in Sykesville. In a meeting with elections board members yesterday, Dembrow urged them to swiftly approve the five districts and move forward with the election.

After the meeting, Dembrow and Richard C. Murray, attorney for the Board Of Elections, met with Judge Galloway - and the consent order was signed.

"I'm very pleased and surprised at the promptness of the action," Dembrow said. "The Board of Elections did the right thing. The court did the right thing, and the error earlier committed has been corrected. They accomplished more with this today than the entire state legislature did in 90 days."

The 2004 referendum required a redistricting committee to establish a map that would go before the General Assembly for approval. But when the 2006 session ended April 10, legislators had failed to approve a map.

Unless an appeal is filed within 30 days, the consent order will be upheld as law, Murray and Dembrow said.

Yesterday's decision represents a swift change of course for the elections board.

With a July 3 filing deadline for commissioner candidates, elections board officials said they felt a sense of urgency to begin the process. Two days ago, the board had chosen to proceed with an at-large commissioners' election this year, following the advice of the attorney general's office.

A fight over the new commissioner districts began last year when the county delegation ignored the recommendation of the redistricting committee in favor of an alternate map.

Known as Option One, the map favored by the county delegation split Hampstead and Manchester into separate districts and created one large district out of South Carroll.

Residents, county and town officials lobbied the delegation for Option Two, but the members would not budge.

As of yesterday, only one candidate had filed to run for commissioner: Perry L. Jones Jr., an incumbent from Union Bridge.

Under the consent agreement, Jones will not have to file again, said Janet Jump, president of the county Board of Elections. Instead, he will be listed as a candidate in District 1, which includes Union Bridge, Taneytown and New Windsor.

laura.mccandlish@baltsun.com

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